Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson – A Book Review

I have to be honest, I’m a huge fan of Wonder Woman, but my interest in her derives from two very distinct sources.

Firstly, I have two young daughters, and as a lifelong comic book lover, I very much want them to have a super hero for whom they can both admire and aspire.  With her rich history, roots in Greek mythology, and general decency, Wonder Woman fits the bill.  Best of all?  She is not derivative of a male counterpart.  My girls love Batgirl and Supergirl as well, but I don’t want them subconsciously believing they have to copy a boy to be cool.  Wonder Woman shows them they can walk their own path and achieve heroism just fine.

Secondly, Brian Azzarello rocketed Wonder Woman up the ranks to become one of my favorite characters, and this happened well within the last six years with the advent of The New 52.  By reinventing the Greek Gods and plopping them right down into the world of both man and Wonder Woman, Azzarello brought a complexity to Wonder Woman that, for me, didn’t exist in any other title.  He somehow merged the world of super heroes, ancient Greek mythology, and modern day concerns into a monthly title that never failed to captivate my imagination.  As you can probably guess, I was disappointed when he moved on.

Grant Morrison recently released his version of Wonder Woman’s origin set within the Earth One imprint.  I’ve reviewed that title already, but in a nutshell, it seemed to rehash events and themes already well covered within the character’s multigenerational existence, albeit with wonderful Morrison flair.

When I discovered Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, I felt both intrigued and fatigued.  On the one hand, Jill Thompson is an amazing talent and the fact that she both wrote and illustrated this book makes it a must-buy.  On the other hand, I’ve experienced quite a bit of Wonder Woman’s origin within the last few years, so much so that I really didn’t want to go down that road yet again.

In the end, I’m glad I made the trip down said road, but I’d be lying if I said a few bumps did not jostle me from time to time.

Let’s first discuss the art.  I could pretty much summarize it with one word and be done: magnificent.  However, I’m not a one word kind of guy, so allow me to offer a bit more.

Thompson’s drawings and colors have an ethereal picture book quality, which is meant as a compliment.  As I read this book, I felt as though I’d entered a fairy tale, not in content, but rather in terms of atmosphere.  The material is fairly serious, as I’ll discuss later, and there are some imposing monsters and gruesome circumstances, yet Thompson manages to maintain an almost otherworldly quality that struck me as … well … magical.

Her Amazons are also incredibly interesting.  Thompson depicts them as strong, sometimes brutal women, but they never appear brutish or even physically menacing.  Their strength resonates though a certain grace Thompson bestows upon them.  They are athletic, but not hulking.  They are beautiful, but not sexualized.  They are lithe and light except when weighed down by armor.  Thompson conveys a race capable of winning wars but very much more interested in art and culture.

As for the story, I congratulate Thompson on taking a different approach, but I wish she had avoided the “origin” element of the tale.  In this version, Princess Diana is a gift to Hippolyta from the Gods, and the Amazons treat her as such.  As a result, Diana is spoiled, humored, and given chance after chance even when behaving badly.  That’s not to say she does not have the heart of Wonder Woman within.  She is still capable of great feats, and is, for the most part, a decent woman, and the book takes care to remind the reader as such, but the book also spends a lot of time displaying Diana’s flaws.

By this point, Thompson had me hooked.  I liked this new approach in that Wonder Woman did not always have a heart of gold.  Though born physically perfect, the Amazons’ influence ironically tainted her persona.  She exercised selfishness, lied, took advantage, and even treated others poorly.  Again, though, Thompson made a point to showcase her heroic tendencies as well.

I won’t spoil the ending of the book, but Wonder Woman’s impetus for travelling to the world of Man is given a major overhaul.  She now has an express reason for wearing her armor, bracelets, lasso, and golden girdle.  I especially love the tiara’s new concept and its implications upon her character.

Part of me, though, and again, I’ll try not to spoil too much, did not enjoy the significant change in motivation behind Wonder Woman’s mission to Man.  Thompson executed it well, but it does bring a certain level of darkness to the character that I’m not sure I wanted.  Does it make more sense than her original origin?  Yes, absolutely.  But, at the same time, we’ve seen this story unfold hundreds of times before with other characters, especially those within the comic book medium.  In a way, it lessens Wonder Woman’s originality even as the event itself is unique and new to the character.  I’m honestly conflicted about the issue.  Perhaps this is a good sign, though.  Thompson evoked a lot of thought from me concerning her iteration, which means that I didn’t close the book, set it aside, and move on.  It’s been days since I finished it, in fact, and yet here I am, still thinking about it and trying to revolve my feelings regarding it.

Speaking of lingering issues, Grant Morrison made his Amazons overtly homosexual in Earth One.  It makes perfect sense when you really think about it – an island paradise solely comprised of eternal women.  Thompson handles the matter far more deftly, with a far lighter touch, but proves even more provocative in doing so.  She hints at much, reveals nothing, and accomplishes the perfect tone as a result.  My pre-teen daughter could read this book and think nothing of Wonder Woman’s sexuality, whereas, as an adult, a few scenes led me to certain conclusions.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman fans need to read this book.  It is beautiful to behold and delivers a distinctive exploration of the character’s incentives.  Thompson takes a super hero trope and manages to make it feel fresh, especially in regards to Wonder Woman’s garb and tools.  I like that Thompson scuffed Wonder Woman’s personality up a little, making her not quite so pure hearted and good intentioned, but I’m not convinced of its necessity.  The True Amazon will leave you with much to think about, and that’s ultimately the sign of a successful work.

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Mooncop by Tom Gauld – A Book Review

I discovered Mooncop, published by Drawn & Quarterly, from NPR Book Concierge’s guide to great 2016 reads.  Luckily enough, my local library had a copy available.

Mooncop is a brief read, one that you could probably wrap up in a single sitting.  The concept is that a single moon cop patrols a lone colony on the moon.  This colony is sparsely populated, and the moon cop has virtually nothing to do.  The few citizens left in the colony seem to be leaving due to reassignment or simply yearning greener pastures.  It is a broken-down place, not at all the sort of wondrous settlement we imagine when thinking about the future.

We meet the moon cop well into his career.  He seems to be a staple of the community and well known amongst his fellow colonists.  However, the moon cop can’t help but notice that things are quite as boisterous as in the past, nor are things working quite as well.  In fact, the moon cop soon realizes that the colony’s decrepit machinery is being redistributed or else altogether discontinued.  Not long after that, he finds that more and more people are leaving, and the moon cop quickly suspects that he may very well be the last person on the satellite.

It’s possible to take Mooncop completely at face value.  There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but that may be a disservice and will certainly prove dissatisfying.  Taken literally, the humor within the book may garner a grin or a chuckle.  When read ironically, though, I think it achieves a more fulfilling sort of comedy.  It certainly seems as though Tom Gauld is making fun of ridiculous trends in technology – trends that offer no more than mere amusement that will surely wear off as time passes.  After all, a lunar colony has been settled on the moon, yet it seems to be doing nothing particularly relevant or meaningful and so, as a result, people leave.  The colony lacks purpose, direction, or benefit to its citizens.  Consequently, the inhabitants soon lose their sense of purpose, direction, and any feeling of achievement.  Like so many cases in the past, it aroused great interest only to eventually prove itself nothing more than a novelty.

The great irony is that by having nothing to do and by doing nothing, the moon cop reaches incredibly significant solution rates.  He is, statistically, perhaps the greatest police officer in the history of mankind.  Once again, I think maybe Gauld is commenting on the easy routine many of us fall into in regards to our career.  Instead of searching for new challenges and seeking out interesting, dynamic opportunities, we stick with what we know, we keep doing what we do well, even if that isn’t really doing very much at all.

Ironic humor also derives from the few people on the moon being replaced by machines.  Even a lunar colony suffers from the same fate as America small towns, and, like these small towns, the lunar colony eventually dries up.  The driving force of any colony should be to make sure its population thrives, especially one where no human has ever previously survived.  But, the lunar colony is no exception to commerce, and so thus people are replaced when it’s more economically advantageous.

It’s not all dry, ironic humor, though.  The book, to me, ends on a rather positive note.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it eventually seems to be stating that sometimes happiness can come from an unexpected place even while enduring a hopeless environment.  Sometimes people gain contentment by simply accepting their situation and the people around them and celebrating the positives that exist, no matter how meager.

If Gauld ever reads this, I hope I’m not reaching too far.  English majors, am I right?

There are no other credits given in this book beyond Tom Gauld, so I’m assuming he wrote, drew, inked, and colored this graphic novel.  The art is surprisingly simple.  The people are not much more than stick figures.  Each panel is essentially a horizontal view, much like what you would experience with a basic newspaper comic strip.  The colors throughout are grey, white, and blue, which actually makes for an interesting visual.  What I particularly enjoyed most about Gauld’s art is the line work and crosshatching he utilized to achieve depth.  He must be an incredibly patient man to devote so much time and effort to each panel’s depth, but it really sets the book apart.  Just take a look at the cover and you’ll see it.

I recommend Mooncop to those interested in the medium.  It’s an unusual work worthy of study.  The art, the humor, the social commentary, the overall brevity – they are all unique, especially when compared to what else is being published in the industry.  I’m not sure how much Mooncop would appeal to a casual reader, however.  If read without contemplation, it would probably strike the reader as rather simplistic and unfulfilling.

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Why the Amazon Show Fleabag Deserves Your Attention   

I first heard about the Amazon comedy Fleabag from Glen Weldon during NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.  Weldon made a point to let the listening audience know that Fleabag is so much more than it seems.  He referenced in particular the final episode, which, according to Weldon, proved especially poignant.

What can I say?  Weldon’s praise captured my interest.  Best of all, the first season is only six episodes long, with each episode averaging not quite half an hour.  That’s the sort of fleeting commitment I adore in a show.

I introduced the possibility to my wife.  I sold it to her much the same as Weldon sold it to me, and she also seemed interested in the concept of the show.  Plus, we agreed that if either of us didn’t care for the first episode, we would jettison it from our lives and move on.

We obviously both liked it or I wouldn’t be writing about it so exhaustively and, perhaps by the time you’re done reading, exhaustingly …

The show features a British woman in her early thirties in England.  She is never mentioned by name, but the summary of each show refers to her as “Fleabag.”  Yes, “Fleabag.”  Only as “Fleabag.”  She has a habit of speaking to the camera with brief asides and explanations, letting us in on a particular joke or an integral piece of information.  When we first meet her, she is having sex with a man while offering us a play by play of the activity and even adding in a few predictions of what’s to come.  When the man rolls her over in order to use a different <ahem!> … orifice, “Fleabag” reacts unexpectedly, hilariously, and in such a way that we learn everything we need to know about her.

Or so we think.

The actress playing “Fleabag” is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and she is absolutely charming, which is astounding because she’s playing a character that should be utterly unlikable.  Her little quips to the camera are typically biting, but it’s her facial expressions that won my wife and me over.  She will deliver the most amazing joke with nothing more than a lift of her eyebrow.  She will let you know exactly what she’s thinking with a quick glare.  Honestly, Waller-Bridge entertained to no end and enriched a character that really wouldn’t work if played by someone else.

Be warned, though, this is a raunchy show.  There are many sexual situations, loads of suggestive dialogue, and ample visits by sex toys.  The language is rough, very rough, with “f-bombs” galore.  However, I wouldn’t describe it as a “dirty” show.  There is virtually no nudity by actual human beings.  If I remember, there was an errant breast coming out of a shirt and a few shots of men’s rear ends.  The most explicit things on camera were often, again, the sex toys (which were not actually in use).

So while this is a comedy, it slowly revealed itself to be something far more, just as Glen Weldon said.  I want to offer caution here, because while I will not explicitly spoil anything past the second episode, you will more than likely be able to connect a few dots.  It’s just that I can’t really address what moved me the most about this show without getting into a few specific details …

You learn early on that Fleabag (I’m dropping the quotes from here on out) is fairly amoral.  She’s not necessarily out to purposefully hurt anyone, but her impulsivity and lack of forethought to both word and deed often upsets someone in her immediate vicinity, whether strangers, friends, or family.  Actually, she doesn’t have any friends.  More on that later …

She has no qualms in taking advantage of someone to meet her own agenda, nor does she mind being taken advantage of so long as that also ultimately suits her base desires.  I wouldn’t call her a master manipulator, but she is a manipulator, to be sure.

Fleabag sleeps around, steals, drinks too much, curses, degrades people, and cuts corners whenever possible.  It’s no wonder she’s friendless.

But she hasn’t always been.

In fact, we learn through flashbacks that Fleabag had a wonderful friend, one whom she loved dearly.  They opened a café together.  Sadly, though, her friend died, leaving Fleabag with the failing café, no other real friends, and a spiraling case of depression that becomes more and more obvious as the series progresses.

Her sister, Claire, humors Fleabag as best she can.  Claire is also a complicated person, though, with issues of her own.  Though very successful, Claire cannot seem to relent control to anyone, cannot navigate a dubious marriage, and cannot achieve enough introspection to glean what she really wants from life.  She has much in common with Fleabag, but she manages normalcy in the outside world far more productively.

Her father has remarried after the death of Fleabag’s mother due to breast cancer.  His new wife is actually the sisters’ godmother, a family friend since their childhood.  The stepmother is the portrait of passive aggressiveness as she makes the sisters feel unwelcome all the while with a smile plastered across her face.  The sisters hate her, she hates them, and the father seems too meek to confront either situation.  In the process, Fleabag appears, though she never gives voice to it, to feel as though she’s lost her father as well as her mother.

The show achieves originality when you slowly begin to realize that Fleabag’s abysmal behavior is absolutely the byproduct of guilt, anger, depression and low self-esteem.  It never crosses over into cliché, it never dives into pop psychology, but it does become very apparent that she only feels of value when someone sexually craves her.  She uses sex as therapy for all of her issues, but never realizes the promiscuous sex is only compounding her problems.

Yeah, pretty deep territory for a comedy.

Furthermore, we can relate to her.  I think we’ve all done something we wish we hadn’t in the hopes of acquiring someone’s approval or favor.  She’s a likable person doing very unlikable things, and I know I personally can say I’ve been there as well.  Haven’t we all in some facet or another?

This character has lost her best friend.  Her sister doesn’t trust her.  Her father will not stand up for her.  Her stepmother detests her.  She’s losing her business.  She can’t pay her bills.  She has every reason in the world not to give a shit about anything.

Which she doesn’t.

Until … she does.

The beauty of that sixth episode is what happens when she does finally care.  How will her family react when she actually tries to engage them meaningfully?  How will she respond when she finally faces the truth of her friend’s death?  What happens when she gazes within and attains a manner of self-realization?

Comedy!

Honestly, Fleabag is hilarious, but it doesn’t shy away from these profoundly important moments.  It never feels heavy even as it’s dealing with incredibly troubling material, and it always prompts an uncomfortable chuckle, an awkward giggle, and an inappropriate laugh at just the wrong time.  It is a serious show wrapped so deeply within a comedy that it’s not until you think about each episode afterwards that you realize its gravitas.

Glen Weldon, you were right.  Fleabag is definitely worth a watch.

P.S.  I know I didn’t discuss her timid boyfriend, whom she pushes away at every opportunity.  I’ve written over a 1,000 words at this point, and frankly, he would require another 1,000, and I won’t be presumptuous enough to believe I deserve that much of your attention.  Plus, it’s late.  And, I’m tired.  Good night.